Human Rights Watch is a powerful NGO, with a massive budget, close links to Western governments, and significant influence in international institutions. Its publications reflect the absence of professional standards, research methodologies, and military and legal expertise, as well as a deep-seated ideological bias against Israel.
|Founded||1978 as Helsinki Watch|
|Registration||Based in New York, headed by Kenneth Roth until 2022|
- In FY 2021-2022, total income was $83.2 million; total expenses were $99.8 million, of which $6.6 million was spent on the Middle East and North Africa.
- Funding is not fully transparent, with the HRW website only listing some organizations that provide “partnership and support” including: Ford Foundation, the Oak Foundation, among others.
- Claims to “accept no government funds, directly or indirectly.” Following criticism from NGO Monitor over massive support from Oxfam Novib, which receives the vast majority of its budget from the Dutch government, HRW added language to its website, saying: “we accept no government funds from these foundations, only privately sourced revenues.” This assertion cannot be independently verified.
- In 2018-2021, Ford Foundation granted $2.6 million to HRW.
- In 2017, HRW received $10,000 from Rockefeller Brothers Foundation for its “Israel/Palestine program.”
- In 2009, HRW held a fundraising dinner in Saudi Arabia, using HRW’s anti-Israel bias and the specter of “pro-Israel pressure groups” to solicit funds from “prominent members of Saudi society.” At the event, Sarah Leah Whitson, Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division, boasted that HRW allegations of human rights violations were instrumental in the discredited Goldstone “investigation” of the 2009 Gaza conflict.
- In February 2020, it was revealed that Executive Director Ken Roth accepted a donation in 2012 from a Saudi real estate tycoon for $470,000 “promising not to support advocacy of the LGBT community in the Middle East and North Africa.”
- In response, HRW “returned the full donation to the donor” and launched a “comprehensive independent investigation to understand why our stringent protocols and policies on vetting grants and donors failed.” In December 2020, HRW published a “Fundraising Policy” claiming that “The organization will not accept donations with conditions that exclude particular social groups or fundamental rights issues. HRW will also refuse funds if it appears that such support would compromise the organization’s effectiveness or independence or would impose conditions that are or could be perceived as inconsistent with our mission, values or policies.”
- Withdrawal of donor support, as seen in a 15% drop in income between 2009 and 2010, was mitigated by a 10-year, $100 million donation from billionaire George Soros announced in September 2010.
- Systematic NGO Monitor analyses demonstrate that HRW disproportionately focuses on condemnations of Israel and that publications related to Israel often lack credibility. HRW also promotes an agenda based solely on the Palestinian narrative of victimization and Israeli aggression.
- Uses distorted legal rhetoric to repeatedly accuses Israel of “war crimes,” “[s]erious violations of international human rights and humanitarian law,” “collective punishment,” and fostering a “culture of impunity.” Applies unique standards to Israel as part of its broader delegitimization campaign.
- Promotes a Palestinian “right of return,” which, if implemented, would effectually mean the elimination of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.
- Lobbies the United Nations, the International Criminal Court, and other international frameworks, promoting false, distorted, and unverifiable allegations against Israel. Played a major role in the creation of the eventually discredited Goldstone report, submitting numerous statements to the commission equating Israel to Hamas and falsely accusing Israel of “willfully” killing civilians.
- In May 2023, following the death of senior PIJ member Khader Adnan after a 86-day-long hunger strike and refusal to receive medical treatment, HRW Israel and Palestine director Omar Shakir tweeted, “Make no mistake: Israel killed Khader Adnan…He never enjoyed a minute of freedom but dies w his head raised high. His resilience wont [sic] be forgotten.”
- Adnan vocally and publicly supported terrorism against Israelis. For example, in October 2007, Adnan spoke at PIJ’s Al-Quds Brigades rally and said, “O Quds Brigades, strike a blow! O Quds Brigades, shake the earth! Who among you is Hasan Abu Zeid? [a suicide bomber who murdered 5 Israelis] Who among you is the next suicide bomber? Who among you will carry the next explosive belt? Who among you will fire the next bullets? Who among you will have his body parts blown all over?”
- In April 2023, HRW was a signatory on a letter to the United Nations Secretary-General urging the UN to reject the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism. According to the letter, the IHRA definition “opens the door to labeling as antisemitic… findings of major Israeli, Palestinian and global human rights organizations that Israeli authorities are committing the crime against humanity of apartheid against Palestinians.”
- The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of antisemitism, adopted by nearly 30 countries and counting, represents the international consensus definition of antisemitism, as well as how to distinguish between legitimate criticism of Israel and antisemitism. An example of the latter includes denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, e.g., by claiming that the existence of a State of Israel is a racist endeavor.
- In August 2022, HRW signed a joint statement condemning the decision by the Israeli Ministry to designate six Palestinian NGOs as terrorist organizations. The statement called for the international community to “take effective measures to end all other actions that deny Palestinians their inalienable human rights” and to “their support and increase funding to the organizations and engage with financial institutions to ensure the transfer of funds to the organizations.”
- In December 2021, HRW Israel/Palestine Director Omar Shakir stated, “These six organizations not only represent the best of Palestinian civil society, they represent the best of global civil society. They have long been models to countries across the globe. They include people that serve on our boards, our closest partners, our closest allies…an attack against them is an attack against each of us.” Shakir further called for the global community to “impose countermeasures” against Israel.
- In August 2021, HRW published a report on the May 2021 Gaza conflict alleging that Israeli actions “violated the laws of war and may amount to war crimes.” HRW’s “analysis” relied heavily on eyewitness testimony and baseless legal standards. Moreover, HRW lamented that it does not have “the evidence” that the “Israeli military … says it relied on to carry out these attacks,” and therefore cannot possibly comment meaningfully on the incidents. (Read NGO Monitor’s analysis “HRW Does Not and Cannot Know Details of Gaza Airstrikes: Pseudo-reports as Propaganda.”)
- In January 2021, HRW published a press release calling for Israel to “provide Covid-19 vaccines to the more than 4.5 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.” According to HRW Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir, “Nothing can justify today’s reality in parts of the West Bank, where people on one side of the street are receiving vaccines, while those on the other do not, based on whether they’re Jewish or Palestinian…The virus does not discriminate in who it infects, but the government of Israel discriminates in who it chooses to inoculate against it.”
- HRW falsely claimed that Israel has legal obligations to ensure that vaccines be provided to Palestinians, while altogether ignoring that Palestinians residing in Jerusalem are part of the Israeli health care system; that under the Oslo Accords the PA is responsible for health care of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza; and that the PA had adopted its own vaccine policy for its population.
- In December 2019, HRW published a report titled “Born Without Civil Rights” that accused Israel of “draconian military orders” and relying “on broad provisions of military law to ban associations as ‘hostile organizations’.” The report misleadingly truncates quotes and withholds vital information, including whitewashing terrorism. The primary examples are individuals who are members of internationally recognized terrorist organizations and/or groups closely linked to these organizations and who have been convicted of incitement, terror financing, and membership in terrorist organizations, including Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
- In March 2019, during the violence on the Gaza border, Research Assistant Abier Almasri stated that Israel “ repeatedly fired on protesters who posed no imminent threat to life, pursuant to expansive open-fire orders from senior officials that contravene international human rights law standards, acts that may amount to war crimes.” Almasri ignored the violent nature of the protests, which have consisted of an organized armed attack on the Israeli border and IDF positions, attempts to destroy and breach the border fence, and sustained arson, rocket, and mortar attacks on Israeli civilian communities.
- On June 30, 2017, Omar Shakir, HRW’s Israel and Palestine Director, spoke at the UN Committee on the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People (CEIRPP) “Forum to Mark Fifty Years of Occupation,” stating that Israel “has effectively turned Gaza into an open air prison.”
- HRW is part of a network of NGOs that promote artificial and manufactured definitions of apartheid to extend the ongoing campaigns that seek to delegitimize and demonize Israel. (Read NGO Monitor’s Policy Paper “False Knowledge as Power: Deconstructing Definitions of Apartheid that Delegitimise the Jewish State.”)
- HRW was an active participant in the 2001 Durban conference, which crystallized the strategy of delegitimizing Israel as “an apartheid regime” through international isolation based on the South African model.
- In May 2023, HRW Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir was a signatory on a statement lobbying for the French government to “act for the recognition of the crime of apartheid” in Israel. According to the statement, “Recognizing the reality of apartheid is crucial, because the first step in solving a problem is to make a correct diagnosis of it. Apartheid is not a hypothetical or future scenario.”
- In February 2023, HRW Senior EU Advocate Claudio Francavilla urged the European Union to “get its head out of the sand, recognize the reality of apartheid [in Israel] and take the sort of human rights measures that a situation of this gravity warrants.”
- In June 2021, HRW Israel and Palestine Director Omar Shakir participated in a conference, “Challenging Apartheid in Palestine: Reclaiming the Narrative, Formulating A Vision,” hosted by the Istanbul Sabahattin Zaim University. Conference organizers and sponsors, as well as other participants, were linked to various terror groups, including Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Hezbollah, and the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).
- In May 2021, Shakir participated in a conference in the Israeli Knesset titled “After 54 years: Between occupation and apartheid.”
- In April 2021, HRW published a report denying Israel’s legitimacy as a Jewish state by alleging Israel has committed crimes of apartheid and reducing all security policies to “demographic objectives.” The report recommended “Impos[ing] targeted sanctions, including travel bans and asset freezes, against officials and entities” as well as “Condition[ing] arms sales and military and security assistance to Israel.” (Read NGO Monitor’s analysis “HRW’s ‘Apartheid’ Publication: Demonization, BDS, and Lawfare.”)
- HRW has been a leading proponent of an ICC investigation targeting Israel. It has promoted this agenda by pushing the PA to ascend to the ICC, lobbying the ICC prosecutor, and publishing reports with spurious argumentsalleging Israeli violations of international law.
- In November 2022, HRW was a signatory on a letter to the ICC Prosecutor to “Urgently expedite his investigation into the Situation of Palestine, including the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution.”
- In March 2021, following the Court’s decision to launch a formal investigation into alleged war crimes committed by Israel in the “State of Palestine,” Executive Director Ken Roth tweeted, “The International Criminal Court wouldn’t need to investigate Israeli and Palestinian war crimes if Israeli and Palestinian authorities had been prosecuting their own war criminals. They haven’t been. At all.”
- HRW has lobbied intensively in support of the discriminatory UN database of businesses operating across the 1949 Armistice line, aimed at bolstering BDS campaigns against Israel. HRW has signed multiple letters to the UN calling for the database to be implemented without further delay.
- On November 21, 2016, Bashi sent a letter to the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, praising the latest efforts to establish a UN boycott of Israel, and offering three specific companies to be included on a nascent UN blacklist.
- In November 2017, HRW issued a press release applauding the database for “build[ing] pressure on businesses.”
- In November 2019, Ken Roth and Omar Shakir met with UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet to assist in compiling the database.
- In December 2018, HRW, in cooperation with Israeli NGO Kerem Navot, published a report titled “Bed and Breakfast on Stolen Land: Tourist Rental Listings in West Bank Settlements” that was the culmination of a two-year long coordinated and well-financed BDS campaign targeting Airbnb (and Booking.com). The report contained numerous false claims regarding the legal and human rights responsibility of Airbnb in allowing Israelis from the West Bank to list their properties, as well as questionable methodology.
- On June 13, 2018, HRW issued a press statement accusing Israel of “apparent war crimes in Gaza” during the Great March of Return. The statement demanded that “Third countries should impose targeted sanctions” against senior Israeli officials (emphasis added).
- On September 12, 2017, HRW published a report on “Israeli Law and Banking in West Bank Settlements,” calling for banks “to comply with their own human rights responsibilities by ceasing settlement-related activities,” as by “providing services to and in settlements, which are illegal under international humanitarian law (IHL), and partnering with developers in new construction projects, Israeli banks are making existing settlements more sustainable, enabling the expansion of their built-up area and the take-over of Palestinian land, and furthering the de facto annexation of the territory.”
- According to Sari Bashi, HRW Israel/Palestine Advocacy Director, “There are many, many steps banks can and should take to at the very least reduce their involvement in settlements, if not stop it entirely…If they choose not to take steps, institutional investors who care about their own human rights activity should take action.”
- On May 28, 2018, HRW issued another publication targeting Israeli banks titled, “Bankrolling Abuse: Israeli Banks in West Bank Settlements,” along with a companion video and infographics. The report makes numerous false accusations and invents international law.
- In 2016, HRW initiated a failed public campaign with alongside Palestinian efforts, calling on FIFA to take punitive measures against Israel and “require the IFA to stop holding games inside the settlements and to stop allowing fields and halls in the settlements to be used for official competitions.” The campaign included multiple articles, extensive social media posts, and lobbying of the UN.
- On January 19, 2016, published “Occupation Inc.” a 162-page report calling for businesses to cease operations in Israeli West Bank settlements, constituting a de-facto call for a boycott of Israel. Coinciding with HRW’s publication, Kathleen Peratis, co-chair of HRW’s Middle East North Africa Advisory Committee and emerita Board of Trustees member, penned a pro-BDS article in Ha’aretz.
Criticism from Founder
- Due to the organization’s failures, founder Robert Bernstein published an article in the New York Times (“Rights Watchdog, Lost in the Mideast,” October 19, 2009) strongly criticizing the organization for ignoring severe human rights violations in closed societies, for its anti-Israel bias, and for “issuing reports…that are helping those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state.”
- Bernstein expanded on these ideas in a lecture at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (November 2010), noting, “Human Rights Watch’s attacks on almost every issue [have] become more and more hostile [toward Israel].”
- Many HRW officials, including those working on Israel, have a history of ideological bias:
- Ken Roth
- During the 2014 Gaza War, director Ken Roth obsessively tweeted about the conflict. Roth’s tweets were characterized by significant levels of sarcasm, vitriol, and deep-seated hostility toward Israel.
- In July 2006, in responding to a critique of HRW’s reporting of the Lebanon War, Roth stated: “An eye for an eye – or, more accurately in this case, twenty eyes for an eye – may have been the morality of some more primitive moment. But it is not the morality of international humanitarian law…” The New York Sun decried this statement as a “slur on the Jewish religion itself that is breathtaking in its ignorance… To suggest that Judaism is a ‘primitive’ religion incompatible with contemporary morality is to engage in supersessionism, the de-legitimization of Judaism, the basis of much antisemitism.”
- In summer 2022, after resigning from HRW, Roth was denied a fellowship position at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, allegedly due to his “anti-Israel bias.” On January 19, 2023, following criticism, Harvard reversed course and extended a fellowship position to Roth.
- Omar Shakir
- In October 2016, HRW hired Omar Shakir to serve as its “Israel and Palestine Country Director.” Shakir is a consistent supporter of a one-state framework and advocate for BDS campaigns against Israel. In February 2017, Shakir was denied a work visa by the Israeli government, but was ultimately allowed into Israel in April 2017. In May 2018, due to Shakir’s BDS ties, the Israeli Ministry of Interior chose not to renew his work visa. HRW and Shakir have been challenging this decision in Israeli courts.
- On November 5, 2019, the Israeli High Court rejected Shakir’s appeal and upheld the ruling of the Lower Court that his work visa would not be renewed. On November 24, 2019, Shakir left Israel.
- Sarah Leah Whitson
- Whitson served as Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division in 2004-2019.
- In 2009, Sarah Leah Whitson visited Libya, claiming to have discovered a “Tripoli spring.” She praised Muammar Qaddafi’s son Seif Islam as a leading reformer and for creating an “expanded space for discussion and debate.”
- In January 2020, law professor Eugene Kontorovich published an op-ed revealing the hypocrisy of Whitson, as she is an active supporter of groups that support Armenian settlements in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region of Azerbaijan, while simultaneously pursuing campaigns against Jewish communities in the West Bank.
- Whitson published a 2011 op-ed on The Huffington Post, “A Matter of Civil Rights,” abusing the legacy of the US Civil Rights Movement to single-out and advance hatred towards Israel. In the op-ed, Whitson maintained: “We do no honor to [Dr. Martin Luther] King’s legacy by supporting policies that promote racial discrimination and segregation.” Whitson also employed racial stereotyping in race-baiting American Jews, stating: “And why should American Jews, who have a history of deep engagement with the U.S. civil rights movement, support settlements built on these kinds of laws and policies in Israel?”
- Sari Bashi
- HRW Program Director Sari Bashi previously served as HRW’s Israel and Palestine Country Director and the Research Director for Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN). Bashi is also a co-founder of Gisha, an Israeli NGO funded primarily by European governments that claims to “protect the freedom of movement of Palestinians, especially Gaza residents.”
- In October 2021, following Israel’s designation of six Palestinian NGOs as terror organizations over their ties to the PFLP, Bashi tweeted, “Section 24(a)(1) of Israel’s antiterrorism law imposes up to 3 years in prison for identifying with a ‘terrorist group’ by publicly expressing support, praise or sympathy. I support @alhaq. I praise @DCIPalestine. I sympathize with @Addameer. Please join me in breaking the law.”
- In July 2021, while working at DAWN, Bashi urged the Biden Administration to “implement the recommendations made by human rights groups to condition military and security assistance to the Israeli government on concrete and verifiable steps to end the crimes of apartheid and persecution, of which settlements are a central element” (emphasis added).
- In January 2017, Bashi wrote an op-ed (“Fifa must take strong stance against Israeli settlement clubs”) stating that “FIFA should heed the UN Security Council’s reaffirmation that the West Bank is not part of Israel, and that settlements are illegal. The only logical conclusion is for FIFA to instruct the Israel Football Association to stop holding matches in West Bank settlements.”
- In March 2017, HRW Research Assistant Abier al-Masri posted a series of tweets praising Basel al-A’raj, a terrorist leader killed by the IDF during a violent exchange. According to the IDF, Al-A’raj was active in purchasing the weapons used in terror attacks. Masri tweeted pictures of Al-A’raj, as well as Al-A’raj’s will, stating, “Peace be upon your pure spirit.” In his will, A’raj writes: “All the wills of the Shahids… do not quench our thirst in the search for the question of the Martyr… is there anything more eloquent than the Martyr’s deeds?”
- In February 2013, Khulood Badawi, currently HRW’s “Israel and East Jerusalem Consultant,” was fired from UN-OCHA for posting “a bogus post on Twitter alleging that a pictured Palestinian girl had been killed by the IDF during the 2012 shelling of Gaza.” The photo, tweeted under the “Long live Palestine,” was actually taken in 2006 and had no connection to Israel.
- In 2011, Kathleen Peratis, co-chair of the Advisory Committee of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, visited Gaza and met with several Hamas officials. Hamas is a designated terror organization by Israel, the U.S., EU, and Canada. In her article about the visit, Peratis describes her experience exploring smuggling tunnels from Gaza into Egypt with members of Hamas.
- In September 2009, “senior military analyst” Marc Garlasco was revealed to be an obsessive collector of Nazi memorabilia. He was suspended and then dismissed, but his reports were not withdrawn. As shown in a Sunday Times (UK) article, “Nazi scandal engulfs Human Rights Watch” (March 28, 2010), the Garlasco issue was indicative of far deeper problems at HRW.
- Palestinian Activists at Human Rights Watch Gerald M Steinberg and Maayan Rockland, Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies Mideast Security and Policy Studies No. 177, July 22, 2020
- Human Rights Watch director (and former lawyer) Ken Roth clocks up 25 years Lisa Murray. Australian Financial Review, July 30, 2018
- Human Rights Watch Continues to Betray its Founding Principles Joshua S. Block, Jerusalem Post, June 27, 2018
- Why Israel Is Right To Expel Human Rights Watch’s Omar Shakir Petra Marquardt-Bigman, Forward, May 11, 2018
- Human Rights Watch takes its campaign against Israel to Fifa Gerald Steinberg, Jewish Chronicle, January 19, 2017
- Closing the UN Palestinian Propaganda Committee Gerald Steinberg, The Tower, April 25, 2016
- Should Human Rights Watch be Trusted? Michael Rubin, Commentary Magazine, September 3, 2014
- The Twitter Hypocrisy of Kenneth Roth Jonathan Foreman, Commentary Magazine, September 1, 2014
- The Faux 'Investigations' of Human Rights Watch Sarah Garfinkel, JNS.org, July 23, 2014
- Why HRW's Ken Roth Won't Condemn Kidnapping of Israeli Teens Hillel Neuer, The Times of Israel, June 16, 2014
- The Hypocrisy of Human Rights Watch Keane Bhatt, North American Congress on Latin America, February 5, 2014
- Ariel Sharon and HRW's Anti-Israel Obsession Gerald M. Steinberg, The Times of Israel, January 12, 2014
- Human Rights Watch Protects Arab Tyrants Gerald M. Steinberg, Middle East Quarterly (Summer 2013, pp. 49-58), July 30, 2013
- Human Rights Watch Spins Another Israel-Hater into a Hero Gerald M. Steinberg, The Times of Israel, May 14, 2013
- The facade of expertise at Human Rights Watch Gerald Steinberg, Times of Israel, June 24, 2012
- Human Rights Watch’s Lost Credibility Gerald Steinberg, Algemeiner, February 26, 2012
- Human Rights Watch's belated 'Arab Spring' Gerald Steinberg and Naftali Balanson, Jerusalem Post, August 4, 2011
- Human Rights As A Weapon Gerald M. Steinberg, Forbes, January 28, 2009
- Soft Powers Play Hardball: NGOs Wage War against Israel Gerald M. Steinberg, Israel Affairs (October 2006, Vol 12.4, pp. 748-768), October 1, 2006
- Real Shots Maurice Ostroff, Jerusalem Post, September 10, 2006
- 65 Years Ago: Cheap Shot at HRW Richard J. Goldstone, Jerusalem Post, September 7, 2006
- Ken Roth's Blood Libel Gerald Steinberg, Jerusalem Post, August 26, 2006
- Abusing the Legacy of the Holocaust: The Role of NGOs in Exploiting Human Rights to Demonize Israel Gerald M. Steinberg, Jewish Political Studies Review (Fall 2004, Vol 16:3-4, pp.59-72)
- Human "Wrongs" Gerald M. Steinberg, The National Review, July 25, 2002
- The Moral Imperative Gerald M. Steinberg, Jerusalem Post, February 24, 2002